Sales

So I think that the biggest shock of my short entrepreneurial career
has been sales. Sales is hard. It's easy to sit in your ivory tower
and build a product, but SOMEONE actually has to sell it. Unless you
build a product that no one buys, which is monetized indirectly
through ads. Then you build all of the cool features that you want,
and hope that people come and click on your ads. But that's a
digression, and probably the subject of another post entirely.

Returning to the point, sales takes skill and real work. You build
your product, and talk about the millions of users, but then you have
to actually go out and get people to pay you money. So you mean they
won't just magically come beating down your door and asking to give
you money? Well, in some cases it may work this way, but most of the
time you will have to seek them out. At least until the "viral effect"
kicks in and you experience hockey puck-shaped growth (ha).

So, in our case, we knew next to nothing about sales, at least in our
industry. I sold knives the summer between high school and college. My
business partner did a bit of telesales in the financial industry.
Walking into a restaurant and trying to get them to buy a product was
a completely different situation. No worries, though, because we were
willing to try. And we've done a lot of trying.

So here's another interesting concept that I didn't quite grasp from
business school. Even when the customer interested in the product off
the bat, it still seems to take several meetings to get them to buy.
I'm starting to understand things like cost-of-sales a bit better. You
really can't sell a product for $50 a month if you have to make three
pre-sale visits to the customer. They definitely tell you this stuff
in business school, but you don't really learn it until you actually
experience it. Eventually, you start to understand how much money you
need to make to support yourself, and then you can use that to figure
out how much each sale should be worth. Sure, you can hire dedicated
people to sell, but they add to your fixed costs. As a founder, you
can pay yourself next to nothing, but your employees don't expect the
same deal.

Which brings me to my next point: switching hats is hard. Paul Graham
and Joel Spolsky both talk about the cost of interruptions (skip to
point number 8). I have found switching hats between sales and
engineering to be very costly. Not only do you have to switch hats,
but you also have to switch mindsets. After spending some time
selling, I have a lot of trouble switching into engineering mode.

Anyways, more on this later...